China 0 Iran 3
By Paul Nicholson in Abu Dhabi
January 24 – Earlier in the Chinese dancers had put on a display of poise and elegance in the Fan Zone on Abu Dhabi’s Corniche. Come the evening it was Iran’s turn to turn on the style as they terrorised China’s lead-footed defence running out 3-0 winners, setting up a semi-final clash with Japan.
China have never beaten Iran in the Asian Cup and it wasn’t going to happen today. The Iranians outplayed the Chinese in every department with a crisp and powerful intensity that raised their game another level and will strike fear into the watching and waiting Japanese.
Iran have still to concede a goal in the tournament.
It could have 1-1 after just six minutes. First Iran worked the ball down the right and Mehdi Teremi sent in a low cross that was agonisingly missed by Iran’s incoming strikers. China countered and worked Hao Junmin free on goal only to fail to get a shot away with the ball ending up in the arms of the outstanding Iranian keeper Alireza Berinvand.
That was pretty much China’s best chance as Iran turned up the pace of the game and terrorised a wooden Chinese backline with Sardar Azmoun bullying Liu Yiming as though he had wandered into the wrong school playground.
It was Azmoun who created the first goal, stealing the ball from the hapless Yiming to run in on goal and square the ball to Teremi who sidefooted from six metres into an open net. The referee inexplicably went to VAR, perhaps to check it was turned on. The goal stood.
Iran’s sense of urgency didn’t let up and two minutes later Iran had an appeal for handball turned down before Azmoun again fed Teremi who looked as though he had been pulled down in the area. This time the ref refused to go to VAR.
Ultimately it didn’t matter as on the half hour Azmoun again stole the ball off the ponderous Chinese defence and rounded the keeper Yan Junlung to sidefoot into the net. 2-0 and Iran threatening for more.
The second half was never going to live up to the pace and intensity the Iranians had injected into the first for the their two-goal lead, despite the best efforts of the majority Iranian fans in the 19,500 crowd.
Brighton and Hove Albion’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh started to work himself into the game more while Teremi and skipper Ashkan Dejagah dominated the attacking midfield areas. Sayed Ghoddos came on to further torment the Chinese on the right hand side.
On 85 minutes Azmoun was subbed to rapturous worship from the Iranian fans, many of them women (they are allowed into UAE stadiums if not Iranian ones). On came Nottingham Forest striker Karim Ansari. In the first minute of injury time Teremi finds a gap to send him through on the goal and slide the ball past Junling.
Iran coach Carlos Queiroz marches on to the next round. China’s coach Marcello Lippi will likely get his marching orders.
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